JEFFERSON — The Jefferson defense is certainly laying claim to be perhaps the state’s best.
And why not.
The Dragons pitched their third consecutive shutout -- the second in the playoffs -- after dominating Hapeville Charter 35-0 Friday night in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs.
It was the first time in program history the Dragons (10-0) have pitched consecutive shutouts in the playoffs. However, the three straight shutouts only tie the program record shared by the 1958, 1967 (which did it twice in that season), 1977, 1979, 2004, and now the 2020 teams for most consecutive shutouts in a season. No one has scored on the Dragons’ first unit since Flowery Branch scored 10 back on Oct. 9. Chestatee was the last team to score on Jefferson when it posted 12 against Jefferson’s backups.
The program record for most shutouts in a season belongs to the 1967 team, which had six in 10 games yet did not make the playoffs that year despite an 8-1-1 record.
“Our coaches and kids had a great plan put together and they are really playing at a high level right now,” Jefferson coach Gene Cathcart told the WDUN Hardy Chevrolet Scoreboard Show after the game. “(Hapeville) tried a lot of different things. They even changed personnel from what we saw on film for this game. Our guys just really did a great job of not letting them get much.”
The Dragons held the Hornets (5-4) to 126 total yards, just six first downs, and forced three turnovers, one of which led to a touchdown.
Meanwhile, Malaki Starks and the offense dominated after a slow start. Starks capped their second drive with a 32-yard blast around the right end late in the first quarter for a 7-0 lead.
The Hornets tried to shorten the game with a more run-oriented attack than they usually depend on. But Jefferson wasn’t fazed.
They turned it into a rout in a 70-second span.
Spencer Neese snagged a rare Starks fumble out of the air and then sprinted 18 yards for a score to give the Dragons a 14-0 lead. After a quick three-and-out by the Hapeville offense, Jefferson’s Max Aldridge picked up a mishandled punt snap and rumbled a short 3-yards for a touchdown and a 21-0 lead with 3:35 left in the half.
Paxton Corkery capped the Dragons’ opening drive of the second half with a 34-yard TD, dragging a host of tacklers the last 10 yards into the end zone.
Following a Carter Stephenson interception, Starks and Neese connected on a 55-yard pass to the Hornets’ 2 and Starks finished it with a 2-yard score.
Jefferson now will await the Baldwin-Carver-Columbus winner in next week’s Elite 8. Those two teams will play on Saturday in Columbus.
“It was just a great win for us and we know no matter who it is the Elite 8 is always a challenge,” Cathcart said.
Jefferson piled up 277 yards on the game, well below its 335 yards per game average, but possessions were limited with a running clock most of the second half.
Starks had 88 yards on 11 carries. Corkery finished with 58 yards on just 3 carries for Jefferson.